Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tags—Identifying Your Speaker

Some more notes connected to dialog--Helping your reader stay with you while maintaining a small tag footprint.
  • Always clearly indicate who's speaking using 'he said', 'she asked', etc.
    • Never force your reader to stop to figure out who's saying what.
    • This is especially crucial when several characters are conversing.
  • Never let attributions get in the way of your story.
    • Cute tags like “he barked” or “she whimpered” pull the reader's attention out of your novel's spell and aren't needed when dialogue is strong.
    • The tone of a character's language should emerge from both the words themselves and the dramatic context.
  • Use dialogue and the description around it to more powerfully convey what you might be tempted to describe by attaching adverbs to tags.
    • Don't write dialogue like "I'm going home," she said happily.
Write Every Day!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Break Up Your Dialog

  •  Never have long stretches of dialogue.
          • Break up large blocks at strategic places with
            • Physical action
            • Replies
            • Description and
            • Other story elements.
          • This enriches the rhythm of the dialogue and brings the conversation to life in your reader's mind.
  • Space the conversation within the page by giving each person their own paragraph.
    • This makes the page less overwhelming (not an endless scroll of words)
    • Gives readers a spatial beat between speakers that makes following the conversation easier.
    • Don't hide dialog within narrative.
  • Never include the main character's narrative with another character's dialog. This reduces the impact of the dialogue.
  • If the narrative doesn't tightly connect to the character's words, put it in its own paragraph.
 Write Every Day!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Generational Speech?

Does anyone have a good reference you can direct me to for today's expressions?

My current main character is sixteen. Would she say, that's cool?

I don't have a sixteen-year-old in my family.


The Purpose of Dialogue

  •  Establish tone and mood
  •  * Provide exposition [construction, clarity] or back story
  • Reveal character and motivation
  • Create immediacy and intimacy (build reader empathy)
  • Move the plot forward and/or increase its pace
  • Create or add to existing conflict
  • Remind the reader of things they may have forgotten
  • Foreshadow
* Although it’s on the list above, be very careful when using dialogue to introduce exposition and back story. Always ask yourself: would I say this in a conversation? We usually don’t go on and on about the past, especially with friends who probably already know it. Back story and exposition should be hinted at and slowly drawn throughout the progression of a story.

Write Every Day!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

You May Be a Writer If

  • You're obsessive compulsive about the length of your fingernails.
  • You spend more time scanning writer's blogs than speaking to your spouse.
  • Your dog/cat never lets you out of their sight.
  • Interruptions to your routine can set your mood off for twenty minutes.
  • You have an edit macro to highlight every occurrence of was.
  • It's normal to wear your shirts two and even three days in row.
  • You spent more money on your desk chair than any gift to your spouse.
  • You get more Barnes and Noble gift cards than anyone else you know.
  • You sit at your desk through breakfast, and, lunch.
  • Your honeydo list gets proper attention only once a year.
Write Every Day!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Building Blocks

I attended a Margie Lawson workshop in Orlando in 2007. One of my takeaways was her concept of literary building blocks. I went home and created the visual on the left to keep it in my mind. Margie set no rules on how much of any element was required. I believe it would depend upon the genre and the level of intensity the writer wishes to create—ultimately the style of your writing. Note, the pyramid isn't a Lawson application. I applied it to stress the importance of emotion. But remember, setting, description, action, body language and senses are important—they make up the base of the pyramid.

1. Emotion
• Visceral Responses: accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, dry mouth, tight chest, clenched stomach, weak knees, blood rushing, tight chest, red cheeks, hard face, adrenaline…heart pumping… "Fresh" prose versus clichés
2. Dialogue
3. Internalization
• Turn simple explanations into "fresh" description
• Narrative, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, omniscient narrator
• "Readers have a tendency to skim blocks of internalization. Agents and editors do too. Or worse, they quit reading
4. Tension-Conflict – turn a phrase; fresh language, not black and white explanation
5. Setting-Description – make "fresh"
6. "DABS"
• Dialogue Cues
• Action
• Body Language
• Senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, intuition) – double dip

Write Every Day!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing

Notice I'm big on bulleted lists? The most profound things in life don't need pages of explanation. In his essay, Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing, he wrote,
"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologs.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialog.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose"
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.
Write Every Day!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Removing the Wasness

I just shared correspondence with a critique partner. He argued there were states of being you could not get the "was" out of. I existed in such a rare state that moment I could spin every example he gave me, so had to share it with you.

When you edit, you have to change your mind set. It requires looking at the situation completely differently, broadening your vision. Examples:

He was my friend.
His friendship meant more to me than I could measure in a cup.
Our friendship endured a crisis or ten.
Our relationship transitioned from hatred to friendship ten years ago when Mary dropped him too.

The staff was made of stone.
I nearly ripped a rotor cuff lifting the staff.
The wood-grain finish didn't hide its granite interior.

He was tempted.
His heart pounded as he considered pulling her into his arms and giving her a big wet one.

He was screaming.
High pitched thunder rushed out his gaping mouth.

Write Every Day!


Fisherman Dialogue

Here's an example of why it's hard to nail real dialogue. Captured on the local pier:

First Fisherman: Hiyamac
Second Fisherman: Lobuddy

First Fisherman: Benearlong?
Second Fisherman: Cuplours

First Fisherman: Ketchaneny?
Second Fisherman: Goddafu

First Fisherman: Kindrthey?
Second Fisherman: Bassanacarp

First Fisherman: Ennysiztuem?
Second Fisherman: Cupplapounds

First Fisherman: Hittenhard?
Second Fisherman: Sordalite

First Fisherman: Wahuoozing?
Second Fisherman: Gobbawurms

First Fisherman: Fishmonaboddum?
Second Fisherman: Rydonnaboddum

First Fisherman: Igodago
Second Fisherman: Tubad

First Fisherman: Seeyaround
Second Fisherman: Yatakidezy

First Fisherman: Guluk

Write Every Day!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trekking (And My Three Principles)

The best principles come in threes. My blue-collar father raised me on three I still live by, one of which could be used in any circumstance.
  • You're living a good life
  • You're holding your mouth wrong
  • You're using the wrong tool
Because this discussion isn't about life, I won't go into the minutiae the circumstances these explain, but writing also has three precious principles.
  • Setting
  • Character
  • Story
You must judge every sentence you write against the need to satisfy these elements. 1) Does it generate vision and sensual stimuli to place the reader where your action is occurring? 2) Does it contribute to the reader's empathy or otherwise build upon the reader's emotions? 3) Does it propel the plot forward?

My trilogy of writing requirements explained, I'll finally get to the topic. Trekking.

Does your character's movements add to setting, character or story? I'm presently beta reading a wonderfully skilled writer, who I know will one day publish. His best skill is his humor, and ability to twist a situation so the mundane is entertaining.

His current novel in-development entails a main character on a search. I complain about scenes not propelling the story. Yes, there is humor, and the technical elements of the craft are applied well. But I don't find the thread adding to any of the three requirements of setting, character, or story.

When I die, I may go to hell for admitting it, but the trekking in Tolkien's works bored me to tears. (Anne McCaffrey sold me on the genre for life.)

I ask you, how many of you read for the journey? How many read for the story?

Write Every Day!


Monday, June 21, 2010

KM Weiland -- Ten Writing Rules

Let me point you to author KM Weiland's blog. She has some of the best content for writers I've found. I include her ten-list for keeping writing concise, which I have paraphrased, perhaps tweaked with my prejudice.

Go to
  1. Ditch the unnecessary. Reached out a hand for his glass. Stood up.
  2. Resist the urge to explain. Even in tags, such as “screeched” or “purred” or “stuttered.”
  3. Don’t repeat yourself.
  4. Active prose.
    Passivity bloats sentences, and saps energy.
    Active verbs convey meaning clearly and colorfully.
  5. Cut clichés, which are dead weight--they add nothing new or vibrant to our prose.
  6. Cut ambiguities. Every sentence must make sense, be sharp and distinct, in every detail. A foot away, never about a foot.
  7. Weigh the flourish. Does it propel the story?
  8. Kill the language intended to impress. Whereas.
  9. There is no room for semicolons, colons, and parentheses in fiction. Keep it simple with comas and periods.
  10. Chop modifiers. Strong nouns and verbs are always better than those nasty ADJs and ADVs.
Write Every Day!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Edit List Part 3

This list of Overused/tired words has some overflow from my previous two lists. I've been intending to look for a tool I can use in MS Word that will accent a list of words like this. That would be so cool to have.

If anyone can direct me to such a tool, drop me a comment, will you?
  • About
  • Absolutely
  • Am/Is/Are/Was/Were
  • Amazing
  • As
  • Awesome
  • Awfully
  • Bad
  • Beautiful
  • Because
  • Better
  • Big
  • Far
  • Fine
  • Get
  • Good
  • Great
  • Happy
  • Hurt
  • If
  • Interesting
  • Keep
  • Like
  • Literally
  • Look
  • Nice
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Really
  • Said
  • So
  • Then
  • There
  • Turn
  • Very
  • Well
  • When
  • You
Write Every Day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

SCARPETTA – Patricia Cornwell

After reading The Front, I was eager to read another Cornwell novel. I picked another 2008 published novel, Scarpetta. I say up front, I'm relatively new to the thriller/crime drama genre, but those I've read from Koontz, Evanovich, Parker, Woods and Grafton, I've loved. I wasn't quite as satisfied with Scarpetta.

 As in The Front, Cornwell had excellent characters, and the relationships between those characters were intriguing and enjoyable. Biggest problem, was the irrelevant exposition in the first dozen chapters that didn't propel the story.

 I was shocked at two elements that took me out of the story: jumping point of view, the number of characters, with the number of scenes written in their point of view.

 Scarpetta also had too much omniscient voice, a plot that took the standard hunt for a serial murderer, and inserted okay twists. But, the Mary Sue genius/skill of every character ruined it for me. I would prefer reading about an average person challenged by an extraordinary situation any day.

 Spoiler Alert ** Skip this paragraph if you plan to read the book **
Please. Get serious. This chick is going to get hit in the head with a .38 round, wake up and save the day; the bullet's just going to lodge under her scalp, and Scarpetta can nudge the bullet out with her fingers. Ruined the book for me.

 I give the first half of Scarpetta ★ – the second half ★★★, until the scene I described above, which brought it back to a ★

 That means an average, overall review of ★★, barely.
  • Technical Composition ★★
  • Story ★
  • Characterization ★★★
  • Style ★★★
  • Edginess ★★ (saved on the back end)
  • Ahhhh factor ★
  • Sexiness ★★
Write Every Day!


Edit List Part 2

Being ADD, I forgot I was talking edit on Tuesday, and went to a new topic. I'm back. Here is a list of words to do a find on when you start an edit pass. Each of these are candidates for replacement—for a more active verb.
  • Brought
  • Climb
  • Come
  • Enter
  • Felt
  • Gave
  • Go
  • Got
  • Held
  • Hit/struck
  • Made
  • Move
  • Pick
  • Put
  • Ran
  • Remove
  • Saw
  • Set
  • Stand
  • Took
  • Walk
  • Was
What would you add to this list?

Write Every Day!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Liked This Passage

I'm working on my current YA paranormal and this paragraph just erupted on my screen, and I loved it. Thought I would share it.

In the back, Zach and Nathan talked about on-line gaming. Adam had his left hand on the back of the front seat. He leaned forward, his thumb flipping the safety of his cannon on and off. A vampire was asking me about my hair. I was inside some Tim Burton dreamscape.

Write Every Day!


Common Errors in Scenes

Author of seventy-five novels, and six non-fiction on the craft of writing, Jack Bickham knew something about things going wrong in scenes. Here is his summary:
  1. Too many people.
  2. Circular argument.
  3. Unwanted interruptions.
  4. Getting off track.
  5. Inadvertent summary.
  6. Loss of viewpoint.
  7. Forgotten scene goal.
  8. Unmotivated opposition.
  9. Illogical disagreement.
  10. Unfair odds.
  11. Overblown internalizations.
  12. Not enough at stake.
  13. Inadvertent red herrings.
  14. Phony, contrived disasters.
Write Every Day!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Edit List Part 1

My target list—words that can almost always be deleted:
  • …ly/ous/ful words
  • Back
  • Began to
  • Both
  • Down
  • Finally
  • Just
  • Really
  • Right
  • Start to
  • Suddenly
  • That
  • Try to
  • Up
Please comment with your additions.

Write Every Day!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Sophistication in Style

Reiteration of the basics is never bad. Browne and King, in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, discuss issues that impact the sophistication of your style:
  • Avoid as and ING construction – weakens writing
  • Create simultaneos action
  • Remove cliches
  • Concentrate your action
    • angrily set >> slammed
  • LY-use is lazy writing
  • Use unconventional comma use – intentional run-ons
    • ☼ Do not over-do
  • Stylistic devices to AVOID -- which pull away from story | character
    • Emphasis quotes
    • Exclamation marks
    • Italics
    • Flowery, poetic figures of speech
Write Every Day!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

You May Be a Writer If

It's important your shorts have no bulky seams, so they're more comfortable without underwear.
You use your link to your favorite reverse dictionary more than any other.
You have the conjugation of lay on a 3by5 card next to your computer.
You can explain that effect is a noun, and affect is a verb.
Your bathroom breaks coincide with cntl + Enter | New Chapter.
You have twelve style books on the shelf in front of you.
The size of your computer monitor is more important than the size of your TV screen.
You have a dog under your desk, or a cat on your desk.
You fall asleep thinking of new plots.
You know exactly when the trash/mail/UPS man deliver on your block.
You're used to your legs going numb.
Your eyeglasses get thicker every year.
A hangnail ruins your day.
You've gone through five desk lamps in the last year.
You can recite the names of two-hundred NY agents.
You own five editions of Guide to Literary Agents.
Even if you're a guy, you have a bottle of hand lotion on your desk.
Interruptions peeve you as much as a hangnail.
Hook means something very different to you.
At least three rejections trickle in every day of the year.
You belong to three critique groups.
You spend as much on postage as Readers Digest.
You have twelve pairs of reading glasses throughout your house.
You're reading three books concurrently.
You can insult with three-sylable adjectives.
You feel guilty using adjectives.
You feel guilty using adverbs.
Passive writing saddens you.
A list of common edit marks is taped next to your monitor.
Your spouse wishes you'd get a job.
Everyone is impressed you're a writer, but won't bother reading any of your work free on-line.
You buy books.
You know where all the local book stores are.
You actually have a library card in your wallet.

Write Every Day!


A Score Plus Two Writing Rules

  1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
  4. Employ the vernacular.
  5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  8. Contractions aren't necessary.
  9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  10. One should never generalize.
  11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  13. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
  14. Be more or less specific.
  15. Understatement is always best.
  16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  18. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  19. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  20. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  21. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  22. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
Write Every Day!


The Writer and the Genie

A writer on a beach frees a genie from a bottle. "Three wishes," the genie offers, "to show my gratitude."

"I want to sell the most-read piece in history," the man says without a second thought. He's suddenly on a mountain, wears a long, white beard, and holds a stone tablet that reads, "Thou shalt—"

"No! No!" the writer screeches. He finds himself back on the beach.

"Only one more wish," the genie says.

"I want to write the most successful novel in history." The writer finds himself sitting at an antique desk, holding a letter from his agent. "Dear Mr. Tolstoy. Love your concept. Please strike two-hundred-thousand words, and I'll represent you.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Perhaps only because I'm dyslexic, but the single, most important visual element to me in a written piece is the density of the text.

I go numb if I look at paragraphs deeper than five lines. I can't keep my place, shifting from right margin to left. I place my palms together, not to pray, but to close the book. The most redundant edit mark you'll find in a piece I have critiqued, is "NP."

Some notes on the topic from Browne and King, in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers:

Breaking up into whitespace

  • Big blocks can ...
    • Come across to reader as lecturing
    • Crowd
    • Be off-putting
  • Whitespace can...
    • Add tension | clarity
    • Give dialogue snap and momentum
Write Every Day!


Thursday, June 10, 2010


Beats are the actions we intersperse within a scene. Browne and King, in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, describes beat's pros, cons, and uses:
  • Use to vary pace
  • Can be disruptive to dialogue | flow
  • Ties dialog to setting and characters
  • Limits imagination required of reader
  • Can be condescending
  • For high tension, keep the beats to a minimum
  • Used to change emotional direction
  • Conveys characters emotions/thoughts
If, when reading out loud, you pause between lines of dialogue...consider it a beat.

Write Every Day!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010


My studying today brings me to what is possibly the most critical element of writing, which Browne and King, in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, does a marvelous job describing. I hope you find my notes helpful. Best a copy of their book.

  • Compress...
    • Contractions
    • Run on sentences
  • Do not use as exposition
  • Use simple language
  • Internal Monologue
  • Constant interruptions of dialog is annoying
  • Apply balance to demonstrate...
    • Character’s feelings
    • Importance of their feelings
    • Scene flow
    • How feelings otherwise exposed
  • Narrative distance (intimacy)
  • Drop the “He thought/wondered”
  • Internal Dialogue – italics – no "thinker" attribution
    • A little goes a long way
    • Can be gimmicky | over-used
    • Same POV as internal monologue | so Internal Dialogue not necessary
    • Can be a symptom of weak writing
Write Every Day!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Writers and Vampires

How is a writer like a vampire? They both lead a pallid, lonely existence, sucking dry loved ones and strangers in a ghoulish quest for immortality.

Building a Character

When we first start writing we are locked into a mindset that the story has to be told, that the elements come together from describing. I think I had to move to my tenth or eleventh novel before it started to sink in. I'm starting novel number fifteen, and the telling jumps off the page at me now. Browne and King in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers categorize four methods of building character. I'm certain there are more, but for the life of me can't get them out of the right synapse.
  • From another character’s statements
  • From dialog
  • From beats (physical action)
  • From character’s viewpoint
Write Every Day!


Monday, June 7, 2010

RUE – Resist the Urge to Explain

When I was seventeen and told the joke about the two old Texans standing on the bridge, the punchline (both) wooshed over my head. Yeah, and I haven't gotten any swifter. The point is, it's sometimes tough for the writer to figure out when you haven't explained enough, and vice versa. Browne and King in Self-Editing For Fiction Writers point out four dangers of explaining.
  • Condescending
  • Redundant
  • Muddles writing
  • Interrupts flow
These are obviously things (like adverbs) you want to avoid, so it may be best to err on the conservative. Leverage your local critique group. Feedback is essential.

Write Every Day!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Front – Patricia Cornwell

I just completed my first Patricia Cornwell novel. It won't be my last. THE FRONT is Patricia's 2008 novel following her sexy state cop, Win Garano, created in AT RISK—if I'm reading her web page correctly.

For those who read fast, you might blink and miss the story. I'm glad I read for the texture of the rhetoric and style. I enjoyed it over three sittings, was drawn into the two main characters. The plot was on the light side. THE FRONT is more about character. Patricia's quirky asides, direction and setting break the drudgery of getting through the minute movement of the characters. It would drive a critique group nuts. I'm glad established writers can cut the polished narrative and just tell the story.

I give THE FRONT three stars overall.
  • Technical Composition ★★
  • Story ★★
  • Characterization ★★
  • Style ★★★★
  • Edginess ★★
  • Ahhhh factor ★★
  • Sexiness ★★★
Write Every Day!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Omniscient Voice

Some thoughts when you're trying to decide your voice -- Gems from Nancy Kress, Write Great Fiction.
  • Most flexible
  • Presents “all knowing” perspective
  • Author speaking directly to reader
  • Harder to do well
  • Facilitates author interpretation (not in character’s head) ie author intrusion
  • Focus is on author’s contemplation of events, rather than participation in the events
  • Directs reader’s focus
  • Con: fragments the story
  • Con: distants reader from characters
  • Con: demands higher level of prose
 Write Every Day!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Third Person

Some thoughts when you're trying to decide your voice--Gems from Nancy Kress, Write Great Fiction.
  • Limited: a single character – seen through one person’s eyes
  • Multiple: via multiple characters (multi-viewpoint)
    • Provides inclusion of many additional scenes
    • Provides development of more characters
    • Allows multi-layered viewpoints of same event
  • Close – nearly in the POV character’s head
    • Immediacy
    • Character identification
    • Character’s diction
    • Provides author flexibility to share what’s not in character’s head
  • Distant: more formal, and less personal POV
    • All observations don’t have to be filtered through character
  • Middle-Distance
    • Provides most flexibility; can dip into character’s mind or back away
    • Allows greater context than close
    • Works well with multiple POV
  • Greater flexibility
  • Greater range
  • Can describe POV character from the outside
  • Not limited to narrator’s worldview
  • Can withhold information
  • Write about other characters with more objectivity
  • Can pull away from POV character
  • Con: distance (less immediate – emotion, action)
  • Con: less distinctive language paterns
  • Con: greater awkwardness over memory, flashbacks, opinion
Write Every Day!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Person

Some thoughts when you're trying to decide your voice--Gems from Nancy Kress in Write Great Fiction.
  • Provides immediacy – character’s sensations
  • Language – directly shows character
  • Effective at presenting quirky characters
  • Con: Range is limited
  • Con: Character must be there
  • Con: Cant share info the POV doesn’t have
  • Con: Must divulge POVs knowledge, not like in 3rd person
  • Con: not natural (to tell about self for hundred of pages, with perfect recall in conversation and events)
 Write Every Day!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Point of View

Our point of view determines what we tell, how we tell it, and what the action means.

Choosing POV
  • Someone who will be impacted by action
  • Who can be present in the conclusion
  • Who gets most of the good scences
  • Provide unique outlook
  • Whose head are you most interested in inhabiting
How many POVs? – As few as possible
  • Fragments storyline
  • Makes story feel less plausible
Gems from Nancy Kress in Write Great Fiction.

Write Every Day!